Gig economy puts focus on tertiary education and upskilling of the workforce

PENANG: The gig economy, hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic, has created an urgency to equip the country’s workforce with a higher level of education and technical skills, said a technology management expert from Wawasan Open University (WOU).

Rapid digitisation has led to the disruption in the labour market, and technology plays an important role in galvanising the scope of independent work regardless of the geographical boundaries.

Senior lecturer Dr Lee Heng Wei, from the newly-established School of Digital Technology (DiGiT), said Malaysia will face social problems and an unhealthy trend will start to emerge in the workplace if people do not equip themselves with the necessary skills. He highlighted that those with less skills and a lower level of education are at a disadvantage when they take on odd jobs in the gig economy.

“The gig economy is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving individual short-term business contracts. The corporate world is now trending towards embracing the gig economy to reduce their operating costs and to meet project needs,” he said in a press release in view of the current pandemic, and the need for the labour force to be equipped with multi-disciplinary skills. The gig economy culture was brought on by the pressure of coping with operating costs, management costs and talent replacement, elaborated Dr Lee. 

He said that in the past, the gig economy had helped many people to generate extra income and survive during an economic downturn. He continued that in the current economic situation, “the gig economy is ideal for professionals but is harmful to those less educated and lower skilled.”

He therefore encouraged the workforce to pursue higher learning and upskill themselves, stressing that “the gig economy is the perfect option for professionals and talents who are sought after by various companies”. He clarified that workers with less education and lower skills will be disadvantaged if they engage in odd jobs over a long term.

He said the gig economy can lead to social problems if workers are unable to make a living and cover expenses from their permanent employment or odd jobs. He cautioned, “If our country fails to get out of this predicament, it will affect our economic structure and labour performance in the future.”

Dr Lee said the gig economy work situation has other associated problems. “Since there are no pay slips, the gig economy will cause the government to face challenges in collecting tax revenues.”

“Not only that, if the gig economy workers with a low level of education do not pursue further studies to improve their technical capabilities and market worth, they would have to rely on the government for financial support, thus increasing the national burden,” he continued.

As the world redefines the meaning of labour, he urged Malaysians to build new skill sets to suit freelance work opportunities, and be a part of the growing gig economy.

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